Over 500 feet in the air and over the roar of the rotors above me all I could hear was the awestruck, “Woah,” that escaped the lips from the young boy sitting beside me. He wasn’t the only one mesmerized by his first helicopter ride as I too gazed down for the first time at the vast expanse of Hansen Dam where the American Heroes Airshow was taking place.
On Saturday, June 20, helicopters of all shapes and sizes flew in to a dusty field to be marveled at by attendees of the free American Heroes Airshow that featured helicopters, an airshow, and demonstrations by local law enforcement agencies.
With close to 30 helicopters out on display, the American Heroes Airshow has grown significantly compared to the handful of helicopters that made up the show back in 1993 where it debuted at the Santa Monica Airport.
Born from his own passion for aviation and law enforcement, Founder and CEO of American Heroes Aviation Network James D Paules, has fostered an event that challenges the public’s understanding of helicopters’ roles.
“I think most of us see the great work helicopters are capable of in very clipped media presentations, such as Hurricane Katrina. Helicopters plucking people off the roofs, but it’s very short, it’s very truncated, and that’s the way media handles many stories, and we understand that,” Paules said. “So the American Heroes Airshow is a great way for folks to come out and talk with the pilots, talk with these flight crews, learn more about these aircraft, and the amazing things that they’re capable of.”
Not only were attendees able to look at the aircraft of various divisions, such as the U.S. Coast Guard, Search & Rescue, and police departments, up close, but they were also given an impressive airshow from many of the helicopters present.
While some helicopters at the airshow were just there as static displays or were on ready-alert status and had to be ready to take off at a moment’s notice, one pilot was there with his specially modified helicopter just to perform for the eager audience.
With the iconic red, yellow, and blue colors of the Red Bull logo plastered onto his helicopter and gear, pilot Chuck Aaron signed autographs for his fans before taking to the skies where he left contrails that marked where his precarious rolls and backflips had taken place.
The only Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) licensed aerobatic helicopter pilot in the United States, and one of only three in the world, Aaron demonstrates to the audience the versatility of helicopters. Although the modifications to Aaron’s specially modified Red Bull helicopter are a secret, some of the changes that allow him to perform his tricks include a lowered center of gravity, and many additional instruments and reinforcements to beef up the helicopter. The changes took about a year and a half to implement, with two Red Bull aerobatic helicopters to show for it.
After being a pilot or 43 years and doing airshows for the past 10 years, Aaron still has a passion for flying in what he calls his “magic carpet.”
Aaron’s father, who was an airplane pilot in both the Air Force and World War II imbued his son with a love for the skies, and Aaron hopes to do the same for many of the young kids who have their heads stuck in the clouds as well.
Aaron believes that aviation is approaching an intersection between helicopters and airplanes as aircraft that can go the speed and distance of airplanes, but have the maneuverability and ability to go at slower speeds like helicopters can, are being developed. He believes that the youth are the future to pushing this technology.
“I’d really like for young kids to get involved, to start thinking about aviation and aerodynamics, and start dreaming about the new aerodynamics to make new helicopters and new airplanes in the future that are coming along,” Aaron said.
Whether you pilot a one of a kind aerobatic helicopter such as Aaron, or simply an H-60 Pave Hawk in the Air Force such as Captain Lauren Robillard of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, both pilots stressed the importance of young, hopeful pilots to stay in school in order to pursue an aviation career.
At the American Heroes Airshow there was one group of adolescents who were being afforded the opportunity to achieve their dreams, outside of aviation, by becoming naturalized citizens of the U.S. in the Children’s Citizenship Ceremony that took place at the event.
There were 12 countries represented from Mexico and the UK, to the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Yemen. This was the first time that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had partnered with the American Heroes Airshow, and 30 new citizens were naturalized. Although it took a great deal of discussion and cooperation to make the ceremony happen at the airshow, the merging of the two themes excited Paules.
“Let’s talk about doing this as part of the American Heroes Airshow so these people can meet some real American heroes,” Paules said when he first proposed the idea.
The sky wasn’t the limit at the airshow for the new citizens or the attendees, and with the chance to pay for a helicopter ride of their own, self-proclaimed helicopter aficionados and youngsters who held aspirations of one day becoming pilots were able to do more than just see the static displays.
The young Owen Sanders had just found out that he would be able to take his inaugural helicopter ride and was filled with a nervous excitement. While Sanders looked forward to having his stint at copilot, his father, Mike Sanders, appreciated the positivity of the event.
“We came to talk to the real-life pilots, all the heroes. It’s really neat here to see such positive people; everybody’s really nice,” Sanders said.
As I boarded my helicopter for my own ride, Mike Sanders flashed a thumbs-up as he disembarked his own helicopter while his son held tightly onto his baseball cap so it wouldn’t blow away from the wind caused by the whirring rotors.
On my own helicopter ride, soaring over Hansen Dam the community pool came into view with sepia-toned hills rolling in the distance. Ripples skirted across the water of the lake as the copter whirred by, circling the dam. Riding in the helicopter it was clear the tender beauty that helicopters had to offer, coupled with the immense command that they demanded.
Robillard put it the best as she described the feeling of piloting a helicopter and riding in the sleek machine on a daily basis.
“You get in and when you start cranking the engines you can kind of hear them light off and you can see your rotors start turning. Then as it’s spinning up it just starts to make that little rumble and vibration and then as soon as you pick it up off the ground it’s all yours, right in your hand. So, it’s awesome,” she said.